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UK still lags behind in use of industrial robots, negatively affecting national productivity

Supply chain specialists, Balloon One, have conducted some new research looking into if the UK is still lagging behind in its use of industrial robots, and how national productivity is suffering as a result.

Having previously conducted this research with data from 2017, Balloon One have compared this with recent data and found that:

  • There has been an 18.8% increase in UK robot density from 2017-2020
  • The UK is still well below the average of 126 units per 10,000 workers
  • The UK is the only G7 country with a robot density falling below the average

To summarise, in comparison to nations with a similar manufacturing output, despite a growth in unit numbers, the UK is still using fewer robots in industry and as a result aren’t able to achieve the same productivity levels.

To gain this insight, Balloon One looked at:

  • The top countries for robot density (number of industrial robots per 10,000 workers)
  • Productivity (GDP per hours worked)
  • Each country’s reliance on manufacturing (value added, percentage of GDP)
  • Previous data from 2017 as a comparison

The graphic above shows the UK compared to nine other nations with a similar manufacturing output. With only 101 robots in operation per 10,000 workers, the UK manufacturing industry is continuing to fall behind in terms of automation.

Arguably as a result of lower automation levels, productivity in the UK is also lagging behind our counterparts. In fact, the UK is ranked as the 22nd most productive country in the world.

Commenting on the findings, Craig Powell, Managing Director at Balloon One said:

“Although the UK is slowly making progress, and it’s difficult to say for sure just how integral robots are to labour productivity, the evidence suggests that installing more robots may equal a more productive manufacturing industry here in the UK. 

“We’re still lagging towards the bottom of the table when it comes to robot density, and our productivity is low compared to other countries too. If we were to follow the lead of our peers and invest more in robotics, it’s not hard to imagine that we could see an upward trend in productivity and even significantly increase our GDP.

“It’s important to remember that robotics is an area that spans all sorts of different tech, from heavy machinery to AI. In addition to industrial robots, the UK could benefit from an increased emphasis on robot technology across the whole of the supply chain, such as autonomous mobile robots (AMR) which are capable of picking and packing. As well as being more efficient than human workers in a lot of aspects, AMRs can assist with more complicated or demanding tasks alongside existing staff to boost productivity in more diverse ways.”